Understanding Hate Crimes

Hatred is a normal human emotion. Many children hate it when siblings or playmates destroy their toys. College students hate it when they flunk their exams after so many sleepless nights drilling their brains. Employees hate it when their grouchy boss tears down their presentations without acknowledging the merits. We feel this emotion as a coping mechanism.

However, feelings of hatred are unhealthy in many cases. The feeling is so strong that many people persecute those subjects of their hate. In October 1998, for example, Russell Arthur Henderson and Aaron James McKinney tortured and murdered Matthew Wayne Shepard just because he was gay.

Survival of the fittest

When understanding hate crimes, one must look at the fact that people usually regress to a very unfortunate human tendency when they face a problem: to protect and preserve their own group and to find a target to blame the crisis on. It is the classic survival of the fittest, where the dominant group must prevent the minority to take control.

According to Dr. Ervin Staub, psychology professor at the University of Massachusetts (Amherst), "We’re in a mode where we feel like we have to protect ourselves, where we feel that everyone who is clearly not ‘us’ needs to be scrutinized." The scrutiny takes the form of hate incidents, and more alarmingly, hate crimes. These actions diminish the victims’ sense of self, making the world a very dangerous place.

Hate crimes

Hate crimes are criminal acts (or attempted ones) directed against a person or a group of people based on their perceived or actual race, ethnicity, nationality, gender, sexual orientation, religion, or disability. Hate crimes include acts resulting in serious or slight injury and any threat of violence. Perpetrators of hate crimes also commit arson and acts that result in property damage.

Hate incident

While hate crimes involve criminal acts, hate incidents involve non-criminal acts, such as circulating or posting offensive materials (hate flyers, hate e-mail, or caricatures derogatory to a certain ethnic, racial, or religious group) without threatening violence or damaging property. Hate incidents also include making derogatory comments without threat of violence and displaying or damaging property and hate graffiti in public places, not directed at a particular person or group of people.

Large-scale hate crimes

Historically, the hate crime phenomenon is not new. Here are some examples from the past: the Roman persecution of Christians, the extermination of people opposed to Stalin’s rule, the Holocaust, the extermination of the educated and the elite in Cambodia, and more recently, the genocide in Rwanda and the ethnic cleansing in Bosnia.

Religious and racial biases caused most hate crimes in the United States. In the sixteenth and seventeenth century, the Native Americans became the victims of bias-motivated violence and intimidation by the European colonizers. In the nineteenth and early twentieth century, hate crimes included lynching of African Americans and driving black families away from predominantly white neighborhoods. Recently, attacks on LGBT people are rampant.


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